Sexual harassment hearing against Fulton commissioner ends without ruling

Commissioner Natalie Hall speaks  during a meeting at the Fulton County government building in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Commissioner Natalie Hall speaks during a meeting at the Fulton County government building in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. (Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Fulton County Commissioner Natalie Hall and her former chief of staff Calvin Brock acknowledge a year-long affair that ended with his departure from his job in September 2020.

But did he quit or was he fired?

And did Brock initiate their sporadic encounters, or did he fear for his increasingly lucrative job if he resisted?

Those questions, with answers still undetermined, dominated days of hearings in a federal district courtroom that ended Tuesday. The story played out in text messages, emails, conflicting testimony from witnesses and half-remembered conversations from three or four years ago.

Though the hearing is over, rival legal filings will continue through at least October. Sometime after that administrative law judge Jason Patil will issue a ruling on the discrimination complaint Brock filed in early 2021 with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Mark Tieman, an attorney for Brock, asked that Hall and the county be held liable for damages under Brock’s discrimination claim. Hall used Brock “for personal and sexual gain,” and retaliated out of jealousy, Tieman said.

“Anyone who has ever had a boss, or been a boss, knows the boss should not be having sex with their employees,” he said.

Dominique Martinez, an attorney for Hall, said the affair may have been unwise but it was not illegal.

She sought to separate their personal relationship from the professional. Brock’s messages and actions showed he wasn’t an unwilling participant, and that he dominated the relationship.

“He curses her out regularly. He tells her what to do. That is not a victim of sexual harassment,” Martinez said.

Hall and Brock both testified, and they each called friends, business associates and current or former coworkers as witnesses — several of whom contradicted each other.

Brock said he moved to Atlanta following his retirement as a police officer in New Jersey. He was living in his mother’s basement when he met Hall, who hired him as a community relations manager on her four-person staff, making about $65,000, he said. That was in May 2018.

Brock said he became Hall’s driver. They shared personal stories while they were “always together,” Hall said.

“We called each other best friends,” she said. He bought her gifts such as golf clubs, Hall said, and they even discussed starting an IT consulting business together.

Hall and Brock agreed their first sexual encounter was at Brock’s then-apartment in Sandy Springs in early 2019, but they disagreed on who initiated it — and whether it was entirely consensual.

Hall said Brock always initiated sex, but she was thereafter a willing participant and believed they were in a “romantic relationship.”

Brock continued on her staff for more than a year, being promoted to chief of staff, which paid $125,000.

Things began to fall apart in the summer of 2020. Hall said their relationship deteriorated due to Brock’s lies about other women and outbursts of anger.

Brock, for his part, accused Hall of tracking his movements and listening in on his conversations for months by placing three tracking devices in his personal vehicles. She would often show up unexpectedly when he was in random places, he said.

Brock’s attorneys repeatedly pressed Hall on the tracking devices. She declined to answer each of those questions, citing her constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Hall said Brock often threatened to leave his job, and that she didn’t fire him. But Brock insists he was fired.

In one text exchange, Hall told him to return his county ID; he replied “What are you firing me for?” Her response was to repeat the demand for his ID. Hall said the exchange just showed her accepting his frequent threats to leave.

“I just felt like he should definitely go ahead and move on,” she said.

Tieman said there is no documentation of Brock’s supposed desire to find another job. The office reorganization Hall announced at the time of Brock’s departure was a cover-up for his firing, Tieman argued.

Hall said the reorganization, which involved all her staff temporarily turning in their county-issued equipment, was due to more than one departure and because her staff needs had changed during COVID-19 shutdowns.

The chief of staff position was eliminated until February 2022, when it was reestablished for longtime staffer Anita Haris.

Hall said even after Brock’s departure she still offered to help him find a job, even voting for him to join the city-county land bank board.